by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions
I had the good fortune to interview a Trustee and loyal donor for a client recently. (For the purpose of this post, and with a nod to SNL, I will refer to this individual as, “Pat.”) It was fortunate because, over the course of our conversation together, Pat candidly shared her perspectives, experiences and ideas with me. This was clearly someone deeply invested in the organization, very thoughtful about their personal philanthropy and someone willing to share their honest impressions without shying away from more challenging comments.
While there are a myriad of reasons for having conversations like these with our key supporters/volunteers/leaders, I want to focus on the one that I believe is of paramount importance, ENGAGEMENT. More often than not, just making the effort to go out and talk to people and to truly listen to what’s important to them is a great use of your time.
Now, I know that almost everyone is talking about engagement these days. In blog posts, newsletters, webinars and on expert panels, there’s no shortage of people referencing engagement strategies around everything from capital campaigns to special events. It’s all about engagement. And, for my money, they are all 100% correct.
Nevertheless, to drive the point home, here is what Pat said with brutal honesty and simplicity that grabbed my attention, “You shouldn’t ask people for money without involving them in where it is going.” She went on to say, “If I am going to give, I just want… no, I need to be in touch with what’s going on.” And unfortunately, Pat made it abundantly clear that she didn’t feel connected in that way.
Here was someone who had been contributing to the organization for many years, but who felt disengaged from the organization’s plans for the future. She was not made to feel like a true partner, just like someone who was approached when money was needed. And remember, this loyal donor was also a Trustee – someone you could argue should never feel anything less than fully connected and totally engaged.
I asked Pat if, over the years, this lack of connection to what she was being asked to support resulted in lower level giving. With no surprise, the answer was a resounding, “Yes, with a couple of zeroes attached.”
As all of our clients can likely attest, at HUB Philanthropic Solutions, we frequently say and absolutely believe that, “People will support what they help to create.” And just the other day, Pat reminded me of just how true that is.
So, before you make that next big ask, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve gone to the effort to ask your donors what they think about the goals you are trying to accomplish. Or better yet, ask them about their vision for the organization and how they think you might be able to work together to make that vision a reality. Our partners should expect nothing less from us.
David Gee is a seasoned development professional with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the HUB Philanthropic Solutions team after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David serves on the Donors Forum’s Resource Development Committee, the Development Committee for All Chicago and as the Local School Council Chair at Beaubien Elementary School.